What exactly is that on the cover of Ultraflex’s first record? It appears, on first glance, to be beads of sweat glistening on an impenetrable swathe of lurid neon green Lycra-ish sports fibre?
Upon closer inspection those beads of sweat are distorted photographs of the Norwegian and Icelandic duo Special K and Farao, who make up the synth heavy group. And as for the fonts used, they all like they were pulled from pulpy science fiction works of yesterday and their idea of what the future might look like, as opposed to the mundane world we find ourselves in. It soon transpires that’s an appropriate visual metaphor for the album’s musical contents.
Visions Of Ultraflex opens with a migraine sharp sliver of string work, seemingly ripped directly from the Chromatics playbook, that cuts through the atmosphere, then there’s some lopsided Octo Octa chords building a pattern and a stomping bass motif comes in. It’s full of the sort of 808 swagger not heard since Mantronix at his prime. The lyrics, spoken in true detached Euro automaton fashion, repeat the group name and song title and not much else.
It’s a low impact start to their exhausting routine as they begin working up their repetitions. With titles like Get Fit, Work Out Tonight, Olympic Sweat, It’s definitely an exercise record, but it’s hard to tell where that exercise is meant to be happening; in a gym replete with beautiful people in legwarmers, headbands and oversized mirrors… or between the covers with even more beautiful people, billowing curtains and yeah, maybe a load more mirrors, rolled up tenners and credit cards.
The cheeky saxophone solo that schmoozes its way through Papaya changes from wanting to slip your knickers off to wanting to get those hands up in the air and those hips gyrating away from the bedroom and back on the dance floor. The album giddily references that period when ’80s 808 Soul morphed into ’90s acid house, when black and red silk sheets were swapped for pink and green shell suits.
Talking of retro bedding, you’d think no one would choose to write a song themed around teenage boy’s bedroom sports décor, but with this record, it’s now a reality on the insistent Man U Sheets. Shot with further sax-ploitations and liminal vocals that recall Julee Cruise at her most spectral and sensual, it’s the ballad those Athena posters sang when we all went to school, or to sleep, and stopped staring at them longingly. That’s what this record, the spiritual successor to Olivia Newton John’s innuendo laden lustfest Physical, ultimately gains: a fantasy fulfilment of weird science and swollen passions.